April 25, 2011 Subject:
Not bad for Poverty Row
As Poverty Row films go, this one isn't too bad. It has a pretty lively musical score, and some fairly good actors. The interiors are pretty cheesy-looking, as is usual for low-budget films, but there are some good LA exteriors. It's interesting seeing Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his earlier roles. This must have been one of his first leads. Aside from this, and "A Scream in the Night," made the same year, he was playing mostly bit parts and supporting roles at this time. Even getting the lead in this didn't do that much for his career. He was still a bit player in the big studio pictures, and wouldn't break through until 1939, in "Of Mice and Men." And as everyone knows, the part that immortalized him was "The Wolfman," in 1941. He was a pretty handsome fellow in these early years, before the alcohol destroyed his looks, and eventually his career. He makes a pretty effective crime boss, and is as nasty as the part requires. If he hadn't been typed in horror films, he might have had more parts like this. As it was, he matured into a fine character actor, in the 1950s, in such films as "High Noon" and "The Defiant Ones." Poverty Row films are kind of fun. They were good training grounds for stars on their way up, and provided employment and a home for stars past their prime. You see many D.W. Griffith actors in these films (like Henry B. Walthall), who were fading from the scene, and who depended on these low-budget films for their paychecks. And people like Chaney, Melvyn Douglas, and Rita Hayworth, on their way up. The films themselves may not be much, but there is something charming about them. They provide a window into a time and place long gone, and give a fair idea of just what you can do with a limited budget. It's amazing that they aren't even worse than they are. As it is, they can be interesting to watch- though some of them ARE really bad, and you want to reach for the fast-forward button.